As corporate communication professionals, we live our lives by deadlines. A 7:30 am deadline for ablutions, 8:30 am for getting-ready-for-work, 9:15 am to get to work, 10:00 am for tracking, 11:00 am for team meetings, noon to 4:30 pm for operations, even a rarely-met 6:00 pm to get out of office to avoid getting stuck in traffic. This is pretty much definition-of-life for 75% of communication professionals.
Miss these and anxiety and sleeplessness become dear friends. What will my manager/client say, how do I ask the journalist for more time while explaining that the CXO won’t share answers till the day after the deadline become all pervasive. The question at this point of the article becomes, “but that’s our lives, right?”. PR routinely features in surveys among the top-10 most stressful jobs globally.
A quick anecdote. During my first six months in PR I used to power nap in the loo. Walk into toilet cubicle, set 10-minute alarm, shut door, pull down cover to toilet seat, sit down, rest head on door of cubicle, sleep. That, is how I caught up on sleep. Because deadlines were important. Before readers get bright ideas, I helped raise client retainers in my first six months, by exceeding deliverables. So if you go down that route, remember – everything works best in balance 🙂
But why bring this anecdote up? Because at the end of my first three months I was told that if I didn’t get that public relations worked on deadlines, I would be let go off. As a green-behind-the-ears 22-year old, the pressure it built was relieved in a deluge in that very cubicle. Of tears, of course.
I have never since been able to live down the importance of deadlines, always emphasising that only three things that matter at work – the brief, the deadline, the result.
And I am not alone.
There has been a lot of talk of late, of mental health issues among our fraternity. Thus far, my rambling has focused on our suffering due to deadlines. In the words of the CHRO of a global communication firm, “I’ve worked in IT, banking and telecom, but only in PR have I seen the CEO of a global firm be on-call 24*7 “.
I therefore share here what I hope will reduce that stress.
- Reputation management works 24*7. Handle a hospital? – you know there is no ‘right time’ for things to go wrong in the OT. Head media relations for a diamantaire? – the dead of the night is oft when (s)he might abscond to avoid an IT raid. An entertainment journalist? – the heroine walking out over ‘creative differences’ on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Therefore, buffer days. When the client says they will respond by Tuesday with answers to be submitted Thursday, tell the journalist you will get them by Wednesday or Thursday. Enthusiastic cutlets get burnt to cinders. Temper the enthusiasm with Murphy’s law 🙂
- Ours is a rare profession where one to-do can result in an unforeseen three-four more. Throwing your day into disarray and deadlines into next week 🙂 Therefore, prioritise. The late Vivek Padiyar said – don’t get the small stuff done in the first half of the day and think “half my things-to-do done!”. Get the more mentally taxing to-dos, those on shorter deadlines, do in the first half when the mind is fresh. That way, even if you have to roll over three to tomorrow, you know you have longer deadlines!
- My natural instinct when getting rid of unnecessary mobile notifications is to right swipe. Earlier limited to Facebook notifications at work or messages to buy atrociously priced property in Mumbai, today, they are oft mails, WhatsApp and Facebook messenger pings from stakeholders on Sundays – family time. If you have prioritised well, buffered your deadlines, informed people of you unavailability, and know that it isn’t a crisis or an emergency, right swipe shamelessly.
Deadlines are important. But not as important as mental health and time spent with loved ones. With time, as friends willing to tolerate your deadlinism reduce, stopping to smell the roses on the road to El Dorado will become as important as getting there.